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Playing Up the Neck

Playing up the neck in closed positions shouldn't be difficult to learn and can be a lot of fun and fairly easy once you grasp some basic guidelines to help you along.

There are a number of reasons why this is a good technique to learn. The most obvious is using a closed position (ie. no "open" strings) allows you to take a pattern in (for example) the key of B and move it down the neck a half step to Bb or up a half step to C. Certainly a powerful tool!

If any of that confused you, hang tight and we'll explain in more detail and give you some visual explanation and an exercise or two to get you started.

Keying Off Chords

The mystery of playing up the neck quickly disappears when you use a chord as a reference point. This is the first of two different techniques we'll explore here.

By example lets look at a closed position G chord. If you have a little experience and are ready to tackle playing up the neck, then there's a good chance you're familiar with this key. We'll develop a closed position pattern in this key that can then be moved into another key without relearning the actual pattern.

Diagram 1

G Chord

Diagram 1 shows the closed G position chord. The three darkened notes of this chord form a reference point or "anchor." In this example, we'll use those three notes (G on the D string, B on the A string and G on the E string) as the anchors upon which we'll build a simple pattern.

Diagram 2

G

In Diagram 2 we see the same three anchor notes surrounded by a series of additional notes. All of the additional notes fall within the G scale and are within easy reach.

Now lets build a small pattern in a closed position (once again--no open notes) in the key of G using the notes indicated in the diagram 2.

-----|---------------2-5--|-3----
-----|-----2-5---3--------|------
-2-4-|-5------------------|------
-----|--------------------|------
 |_|   |   |_|   |   |_|    |

 1 2   3   1 3   2   1 3    2 
 (suggested fingerings)

Did you notice in the example above that we used every one of the notes in Diagram 1 except the D note on the low string? Now lets move the same pattern into the key of B. Remember, all we're doing is moving the "pattern" up the neck. The relationship between the notes stays the same. If this now seems confusing then go back and play the version in G paying close attention to the relationship between the notes.

Key of B

-----|---------------6-9--|-7----
-----|-----6-9---7--------|------
-6-8-|-9------------------|------
-----|--------------------|------
 |_|   |   |_|   |   |_|    |

 1 2   3   1 3   2   1 3    2 
 (suggested fingerings)

Now that you have the idea lets extend this a bit further and use some of the notes that connect the scale. We'll go directly to the key of B this time.

-----|---------------6-9--|-7----
-----|---6-9-8---7-9------|------
-6-8-|-9------------------|------
-----|--------------------|------
 |_|   |_|_|_|   |_|_|_|

 1 2   3 1 3 2   2 3 1 3    2 
 (suggested fingerings)

Note that as you play these patterns you keep using and returning to those same three notes within the closed chord. To play up the neck you need a reference point and using a chord gives you a base to work from.

Using a Scale

Diagram 3

B scale

In Diagram 3 we explore a similar concept using a scale which is illustrated above. This is not that different than the chord we used earlier. The individual notes of a chord are simply part of an arpeggio which is made up of... you guessed it, the notes of a scale.

That scale is a full octave in B that can be played on two strings. In the next example we will use the same scale (with one starting note as the reference point or "anchor"). Note that between the two strings we fit a perfect scale from B to B.

Now lets build few basic patterns using the notes of this scale.

---2-4-2-|-7-2-4-2-------2-4--|-2------------
---------|-----------4-6------|---6-4-6--2---
---------|--------------------|--------------
---------|--------------------|--------------
   |_|_|   |_|_|_|   |_|_|_|    |_|_|_|  |

   1 2 1   4 1 2 1   2 3 1 2    1 3 2 3  1 
   (suggested fingerings)

In the example above you you'll find it easier if you move don't pick up your first finger which serves as the "anchor," although you'll need to in order to play the very last note.

Now let's use some of the notes "connecting" the notes of the B scale for a slightly different and more adventurous pattern. Remember, we'll continue to stay within the range of notes illustrated in Diagram 3. You shouldn't have to pick up your first finger at all to play this pattern.

---2-4-2-|-7-2-4-5---4-2------|-2-4-6-2--7--
---------|---------------5-6--|-------------
---------|--------------------|-------------
---------|--------------------|-------------
   |_|_|   |_|_|_|   |_|_|_|    |_|_|_|  |

   1 2 1   4 1 2 3   2 1 2 3    1 2 3 1  4
   (suggested fingerings)

By taking a closed pattern you can simply repeat it from a different starting point to get a similar result in a different key. Remember, I'm not teaching what notes to select that sound good. What we're showing is that soloing without the benefit of open strings can be relatively simple when you have a reference point to work from.

At this point we could continue to develop patterns but you might instead want to build your own or visit the 10 Patterns in B that are available here. Elements of the closed position patterns are in used throughout this page.

Final Thoughts

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